United States dollar

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What American paper money looked like in 1880.
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  $  Free market
  €  Social democracy
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The worldly philosophers
The dollar is the weakest currency, except for all the others.
—That noted commie George Soros[1]

The U.S. dollar (logographically, $; code: USD) is the currency of the United States, as well as a few other countries such as Ecuador, El Salvador, and Timor-Leste. Additionally, there are several other currencies that have their value tied to the U.S. dollar, such as the Panamanian balboaWikipedia (which is functionally identical to the dollar) and the Eastern Caribbean dollarWikipedia (which is set to US$1 = EC$2.70). It has been the de facto worldwide reserve currency since soon after World War II. This international prominence reflected the nation's new-found economic might, due mostly to not having its heavy industry bombed out of existence as was the case with most of the rest of the developed world.


The original 'dollar', so primitive it wasn't even American yet.
Note the scrolls wrapped around pillars: their shape may have been the origin of the $ symbol.[note 1]

The origin of the US dollar can be traced all the way back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which issued paper currency to pay for things like military expeditions.[2] It was named after, and valued upon, the Spanish Milled Dollar, the famous "piece of eight" (so called because one Spanish Dollar was worth 8 Spanish Reals), which contained 0.82 Troy ounces of silver. Note that these "dollars" were called "pesos" by the Spanish who made them; they got the name "dollar" because they were made to the specifications of the Joachimsthaler, a Central European coin the Habsburgs had introduced to Spain in the 16th century. Joachimsthalers were known colloquially as thalers in German, which became "dollar" in English; these Spanish pesos which looked exactly like thalers were therefore called "dollars." If you're wondering why the Americans didn't base their currency on the good old pound sterling, those were hard to come by for reasons to do with mercantilism and the difficulty of travel between Britain and colonial America, while Spain was pumping out pesos like there was no tomorrow from its mint in Mexico City, which flowed into the hands of America's innumerable smugglers.

During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress issued the Continental currency but that succumbed to frequent counterfeiting and poor financial backing. The dollar as a unit for American money was established in 1785 and was made into an organized monetary system seven years later. The greenback paper notes weren't introduced until the Civil War.

The U.S. was on a gold standard through much of its history, but the value of the dollar has thankfully not been tied to gold in any way since 1971. 1932[note 2] was the last year any gold coins were minted for circulation. Since 1963, all paper money issued in the United States has been Federal Reserve notes. Since 1970, no coin minted for circulation in the U.S. has contained any silver. Currently, the dollar is fiat currency.


$1.41 in change.

Coins come in...

Coins previously in circulation included the half cent, the 2-cent piece, the 3-cent piece, the 20-cent piece, and, prior to 1874, the half dime in place of the nickel. There were also gold coins denominated at $2.50 (quarter eagles), $3, $5 (half eagles), $10 (eagles), and $20 (double eagles). A trillion-dollar coinWikipedia has also been proposed a few times as a way of dealing with the U.S.'s debt ceiling when Congress is being obstructive, but none have yet been minted. Pennies cost much more to produce than they are worth and rarely circulate due to their low value, costing the government a lot of money, but attempts to stop producing pennies have failed due to the lobbying of the zinc industry.[3]

The Susan B. Anthony, Sacagawea, and Presidential dollar coins represent three (failed) attempts by the federal government to encourage people to stop using the paper $1 bill. Paper dollars typically last 18 months in circulation before they need to be replaced, while coins can last for upwards of thirty years. Other countries (e.g. Canada and the UK) circumvented this issue by just not printing low-denomination paper money any more; the U.S. continued to print $1 bills alongside the $1 coins, and as a result the coins utterly failed to catch on each time. Despite early success, the presidential dollar coin ultimately ended up failing due to an oversight by the U.S. mint. To encorage their use, the mint sold them online with free shipping and allowed use of credit card payments. That was a mistake, as people would buy boatloads of the coins for credit card benefits such as airline miles, and then deposit all of their bought coins back into the bank, preventing the coins from coming into circulation. The U.S. mint shut down this loophole in 2011, and the remaining coins were produced mainly for collectors in much smaller numbers. Ultimately, most of the coins would end up in Ecuador, which also uses the U.S. dollar.[4]

A grand total of $188.

Bills come in...

Don't you have anything smaller?

After $100, there are/were a number of bills that existed with higher numbers largely for trading large amounts of money.[7]


As one of the most commonly traded currencies, as well as attracting large numbers of coin collectors, the U.S. dollar has been the subject of many scams to be aware of.

Coin rolling[edit]

Coins of the U.S. dollar have historically been stored in coin wrappersWikipedia when they were being traded between banks and businesses. This sparked a wave of "coin rolling" scams, where the coins in the roll will be replaced by lower-denomination coins, slugs, and washers when trading them for the full value in cash.[8] Similar scams have popped up online as well, with scammers selling supposedly machine-rolled coin wrappers that could potentially contain rare coins when in reality they have been tampered with and contain nothing of value.[9] In general, it is recommended that you don't buy coin rolls online and that you should check to make sure a coin roll is legitimate before exchanging it with money.

Gold-plated quarters[edit]

Many unscrupulous sellers will sell gold-plated quarters or other currency, claiming that it's rare and a good investment. In reality, this is a scam, as these coins are not made by the U.S. mint but are rather modified by third-parties who gold-plate the coins. The layer of gold in these coins is very thin and only worth a couple cents at most, and it would cost more to extract the gold than the gold is actually worth. Gold-plated quarters are truly only worth a few cents above face value, if even that.[10]


President George W. Bush aptly managed the decline of the dollar. Apparently oil-fueled trade deficits and abominably expensive and unnecessary wars weren't a good idea.[11] During his term, the dollar dropped a whopping 41% against the Euro.[12] Heckuva job.

By late 2007, the US dollar had slid to being worth less than the Canadian dollar (US$1.10 = Can $1.00!), and the British pound was back up to US$2.10, from lows in the US$1.50 range in "the worst of times."[13]

However when running up a huge trade deficit, the currency is sometimes devalued on purpose to make exports cheaper for countries buying them in other currencies. This is precisely the thing that hurt Greece the most in the 2010-15 sovereign debt crisis as they – for obvious reasons – could not devalue their currency.

Conservatism's BFF[edit]

The dollar is an important staple of conservatism. It is a primary factor in the success of large corporations (another BFF) and its unhindered accumulation is a great motive for corporate abuse economic prosperity.

Not to be confused with[edit]

Worth 50 bucks but not in the States.
Coin made during U.S. control of the Philippines.
This actually is functionally identical to one U.S. dollar, but only in Panama.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. That's one story, anyway. See What does the S in the dollar sign represent? on The Straight Dope.
  2. A few gold eagles were minted in 1933, but they were all seized and melted down shortly after Franklin Roosevelt took office.
  3. Strictly speaking, pennies are "cents," nickels are "five cent pieces," and quarters are "quarter dollars." Dimes are officially called dimes, though, from the French disme (tenth).
  4. 4.0 4.1 Neither Alexander Hamilton nor Benjamin Franklin were ever president of the U.S., so referring to paper money as "dead presidents" is somewhat inaccurate.